To see Ziek McCarter perform is to see a man consumed by passion and determination. On stage, fronting the rising San Francisco soul juggernaut Con Brio, the 22-year-old singer alternately channels the pained emotion of Otis Redding, the suave edge of Sam Cooke and the solid dance moves, splits and all, of James Brown. But Con Brio is no mere retro throwback; the band's new EP Kiss the Sun has a forward-thinking vibe slathered across its crisp drums, tight horns and in-the-pocket rhythms, abetted by McCarter's progressive, centered nature.
Four years ago, that nature could have turned angry and bitter when McCarter's father was shot and killed by law enforcement in East Texas, under circumstances the singer still finds suspicious. Instead, he channeled his father's spirit into his music: "Anywhere I go, my eyes are his eyes," he says today. "His voice is with me all the time." What could have turned McCarter's soul hateful only spurred it further in pursuit of love.
With love on the mind, and with an upcoming Valentine's Day record-release show for Kiss the Sun on Feb. 14, I sat down with McCarter at Curry Up Now on Valencia St. to talk in-depth about love, romance, relationships, music and more. (Note: interview has been edited for length and clarity, including the moment we started belting out Phil Collins' "Against All Odds" together in unison.)
What's your definition of love? How would you define it?
How would I define love? It all really depends on the connection that you have with your partner, because not everyone communicates love the same way. There's different languages of love, so it's hard to define exactly what it is and have it to be applicable across all borders. I think love is ... love is ... man, that's a tough question. What is love? To me, love is action. You show love, give love, the act of loving.
Not just a feeling, then.
It's more than just a feeling. It's like you show your lover that you love them. You communicate with your lover that you love them. That love that you feel with your lover, you have that inspire you and influence you to also give love in life. Love is forever moving. It's like kinetic energy. Love is action.
Is there a moment that seals it? What's the internal indicator that lets you know that you've fallen in love with somebody? How do you know it's happened?
That's hard, because different people pull out different things from inside of you. If I can be myself, and not only pursue my love for you but pursue the same love for you that I have for myself, if I could do that in a balanced way and we're both in harmony with that, and you could do the same thing, like you love yourself and invest in yourself as well as you invest in me and us, for me in my life right now, that's when I know I'm like, "We can do this. I'm in it."
The ability to be natural around somebody.
To be natural around someone and still just do your thing, you know. We're both sacrificing. We're both compromising, but there's some times when you just have to take some time to do your thing, even it it just means go and take a dance class or do some yoga once a week. We can balance that. I think that’s good.
Are you on online dating sites? What's your impression of them?
No, I'm not. I have nothing against them at all. It's just not really my preference. I don't know, it feels a little anxious to me.
It feels a little too just like, "I need a date. I'm gonna go to this thing and find a date," in comparison to the roller-coaster ride, the mystery and the questions and the exploration that comes with just naturally connecting with people that you come across within your day.
It may work for some people. I'm not against that at all. Maybe when I get to be, like, 35. Like, "you know what, I'm tired of swimming around, I'm ready to get straight down to it," and that'll work for me. Right now I like the mystery. I like the ride.
What's the best first date that you've been on?
I went on this one date. It was so amazing because it lasted all day, from like noon until late night. It was like, borderline, "Do I sleep here or do I go?" The connection was just so beautiful. It was here in San Francisco, started at Michaelangelo Park, landed at an ice cream place, landed at a pizza place, then went to kicking it in a tree.
In a tree?
Just climbed up a tree and just kicked it up in the top! Went to Radio Habana down on Valencia, walked around, did some tarot cards, just did everything. Went to OuterBody Labs. It lasted all day. That was the best first date I've ever been on. It was just like, real. I was just vibing so much I wanted to keep going.
What's the best way to initiate a kiss with somebody?
The best way to initiate a kiss? When you've reached a point -- at least what I like to do, I don't know if it works or not -- you both reach the point where you want to kiss each other but you don't. You just get really close, and you just allow that tension to build up, a little more steamy, like, "When do I do it? When do I do it? When do I do it?" That makes it even more passionate. You both know. You're both holding back. You're both allowing the thoughts and the emotions and everything to just build up inside of you. And after a while it becomes just like breathing. You can't help but go for it. Throw yourself into it, kind of ease into it, you know, let it happen.
What are your top make-out albums or songs?
I don't know if I would actually think of a song to make out to. I think like nature, like birds, being like in a forest or something, or being like by the ocean. Just have nature be that soundtrack. That's probably what I would choose. I don't have, like, a "Makeout CD."
Like 'Love Jams, Vol. 5.'
Nah, we got the ocean and then the birds and the dolphins. Not playing CDs with those sounds, but actually going to the location. The sound of a moving river, you know.
What has your longest relationship been?
If you're talking weeks, months, years? Two years. I'm pretty young, I just turned 22 in September. And I moved around a lot, also, when I was young. I'm from Houston but I lived in North Carolina, East Texas, Austin, San Francisco when I was younger, Fort Worth. My dad was in the Army. So, it was always some job somewhere else. He loved to move and travel also.
That might have affected the longevity of some of your other relationships.
Yeah. Life was forever moving. It affects the way you communicate or relate to people; we're going to have this connection, and eventually one day one of us has to go somewhere else. With the two-year-long relationship it lasted the longest, I think, because we were both really into each other. We had a lot to learn together. A lot of relationships teach you a lot. It's not like you go into it expecting it. I wasn't expecting it at all.
I wrote the song "Give It All" based off of that relationship. To say that I reached the point in my life where I was like, "I'll do just that." I will give this relationship my all. I will give us my all. I will try in a new way that I have never tried before, and I will grow knowing how to give it all. Before then, I had never reached that place where I'm going to give it all. It was really an anthem to that.
Do you believe that by its very nature, love fades? Or can it last forever?
It can do both. Some may say that if it fades, it probably was never there. I want the love that lasts forever, though. I want that love that, like, I had in the past life, I have it in this life, I'm going to have it in the next life. We want that eternal love. That's a beautiful journey.
What are some of the things you do to get over a breakup?
That's hard to say, because I think I do the same things when I'm in a relationship. Like take yoga classes, or go running, or write or create. Creating is a big one because it's still energy. It's still life moving inside of you. It has to come out of you one way or another. It can't lie dormant. Just because you're hurt from a breakup doesn't mean you create sad art, necessarily. The act of creating something is a way to probably help you through it.
Is there a song that you've written to help you get through a breakup?
I've written two different kinds. "Never Be The Same" kind of ties into that. The lyrics of, "Every inch of me needs a healer but I want the one long gone away. What do I do? Where do I go? Who am I? All I know is that I'll never be the same." Like, that experience had an impact on me. I'm going to change, period, because of that. I've written one song called "Blaze of Love" with a good friend by the name of Will Magid. It's about that fire that's not the fire you really want.
I've also written this song called "See the Sun" that's like, there's still hope. There's still a fire that is in my life. I still must keep my head up and move forward and see the beauty in things. See the beauty of that relationship. See the beauty of who I am now because of that relationship.
What songs do you listen to after a breakup?
One specific breakup, I listened to a lot of Sade. The whole Love Deluxe album -- there's this song called "Mermaid." It has no lyrics, though, it's just a peaceful song with ocean and saxophones and some other instruments that are truly magical. Immediately after the break up, though, I listened to "Give It All."
Your own song?
Yeah. Immediately after I went and listened to the song. I was like, "Ah, man." I listen to a lot of songs after a breakup. But like I said, Sade, I listened to this song called "Is It a Crime" a lot. "Is it a crime that I still want you / And I want you to want me, too." Oh, man, I listened to that so much. That's the song, "Is It a Crime," because you still feel it. For me, that's how I was.
Do you have any advice for lonely people who don't think they're ever going to find love?
Well, right now, that's how I feel! But for me, like I say, it's creating. Creating has been my remedy my whole life. Creating an opportunity, creating a platform, creating even the simplest of ideas to occupy myself with something progressive. I mean, I'm human, I have days when I'm depressed too. I look at what I'm doing -- do I need to spend time with someone, do I need a lover, what do I need, exactly? It's a constant quest. But I'd say creating is a remedy for a lot of people. For me, specifically, it gets me out of the hole.